To all the books I’ve loved before…
In my previous column, I wondered if a love of literacy was hardwired in our family DNA. All four of my sons are book lovers like me. I invited readers to share their bookish memories, and it seems that many of you also caught the reading bug young and have no desire to be cured.
Christy Himmelright of the Tri-Cities wrote “I have all the Little Golden Books that my parents bought and read to me. My very favorite was ‘All Aboard!’ about a train trip from home to see Grandma. The protagonist was a girl, and that was almost impossible to find in any adventure story. Also, it appeared that she was an only child (as I am), so identifying with her happened on a very personal level.”
Like me, Himmelright eagerly anticipated trips to the library.
“The best time was summer vacation when I could go to our little town library and check out the maximum number of books that I could read in two weeks. It seems that I was trudging back there often before the two weeks were up and loading up again with the next selection. I also participated in the summer reading contests, and clearly remember the ‘trail’ that wound through the Reading Forest. It started at the checkout desk and meandered along the top of the walls that showed above the box shelves. To go each time I went into the library and find my marker as it moved along the trail was a thrill that I still feel in my long-ago child’s heart.”
Her lifelong love of the written word endures.
“To this day, I have at least two or three books at my living room chair-side, and one on my nightstand for bedtime relaxation,” she wrote. “I cannot imagine life without books, especially the real ones of paper and binding and covers.”
Patricia Garvin of Spokane recalled the magical moment when words came alive for her.
“In 1948, I was in the first grade. We students had a workbook in which there was a story; we were to remove the pages, which folded on dotted lines, into a small booklet. I vividly recall sitting next to my mother and reading the story to her. I still see the line drawings and remember reading to her, ‘…and down the hill came Wee Woman.’ She was as delighted as I!”
Beverly Gibb of Spokane still has a copy of the first book she remembers her mother reading to her.
“My first reading experience was Mom reading me ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ We both loved Piglet the best,” she wrote. “My favorite books were ‘Anne of Green Gables.’ I’m guessing your boys didn’t read those!”
She guessed correctly. My sons didn’t embrace Anne, but on Christmas morning a couple of years ago, my oldest gave me the complete “Anne of Green Gables” collection. He knows how to delight his mama.
Sometimes literature love leads to book-custody issues. That’s what happened to Bernadette Powers of Helena.
She recalled parents joining the Weekly Readers Book Club, which delivered books directly to their door.
“I was in hog heaven getting books in the mail. I still have most of them including my all-time favorite, ‘Half Magic’ by Edward Eager,” she wrote. “The story is delightful and the illustrations are amazing. It also became a favorite of my son, Gannon. He appropriated it when he went off to college. When I went to visit him I appropriated it back. We’ve been stealing it back and forth ever since. He moved from Seattle to California a few years ago. There’s a small part of me that suspects he made the move so it would be harder for me to steal my book.”
Joan Becker, who grew up in Spokane, wrote of her eagerness to start first grade, so she could learn to read. Her best friend was a year older and would read comics to her as long as they were getting along, but if they disagreed? No more comics for Joan.
When she could decipher words by herself, the material the school provided proved disappointing.
“Dick and Jane stories comprised the love and hate relationship of others selecting my reading agenda,” she wrote. “After Dick and Jane made their debut, their interactions were way too repetitive to be captivating. I couldn’t wait to purchase my own comic books and go to the library.”
All who responded still retain their passion for the written word.
“As my 90th birthday approaches, I remember as a 9- or 10- year- old growing up in Capitol Hill in Seattle, going on the bus by myself downtown to the library. In those days there were no branch libraries, and it also seemed OK for a little girl to go alone on the bus,” wrote Muriel Rubens. “My parents read to me as I was growing up, as did my two older brothers and sister. I learned to read at an early age, and I loved it and haven’t stopped since,”
As I write, my suitcase sits open beside me. I’m packing for a trip to Ohio to see my twin grandsons, aka “The World’s Most Beautiful Boys.”
My husband glanced at the mound of stuff I intend to pack. Board books for the boys and a paperback for their big sister lay scattered among clothes. My own stack of reading material teetered nearby.
“You’re never going to fit all that in your suitcase,” he said.
He may be right.
However, one thing is certain, even if I have to wear the same outfit every day for a week; the books are coming with me.
The photo tells the story.
“Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss opens across Alex’s lap. He beams because he’s the designated reader. Ethan clutches 6-week-old Sam. Ethan smiles because he’s the chosen baby-holder. With neither baby nor book to hold, Zach sits glumly chin in hand, pondering his new role as middle child.
As far as I can tell, it’s the earliest picture with all four of our sons together – and of course, someone is holding a book.
Lest you worry about Zach, another snapshot shows he’s finally achieved story-reader status. A toddler Sam leans against him as Zach reads, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Bookish moms tend to have bookish kids, which led to unforeseen consequences. More on that later.
Perhaps a love of reading is genetic, imprinted in our DNA. All I know is my parents were readers and my siblings are readers. As soon as we could print our names we all got library cards.
I still remember the thrilling moment when I realized I could read. I huddled in the children’s area of the South Hill Library with a picture book in my lap. Suddenly, the letters became words. I was reading! I was reading “Fun with Dick and Jane!” I haven’t been without a book nearby since.
Few things are as magical as picking up a good book and finding yourself transported to another world, another time, another life.
From the moment I knew I was expecting, I read to my unborn children. I wasn’t hoping for a baby Einstein, I just wanted them to learn the rhythm and flow of language.
Cloth books and board books filled our nursery – as indispensable as the stacks of diapers and wipes on the changing table.
Bedtime rituals always included stories, songs and prayers – each offering a different experience of the wonder of words.
As the boys grew, storytime at the Shadle and later Indian Trail libraries became a weekly outing we all eagerly anticipated. Soon my sons could sound out words, choose books by themselves, and discover favorite authors and series independently.
Even as the three oldest approached adolescence and outgrew the bedtime ritual, I’d frequently read aloud to them after dinner. When Sam discovered Patricia Polacco books and brought home “Pink and Say” from the school library, I read it to the family. The book is based on a true story of two teenage boys, one Black and one white, who fought during the Civil War. Every single one of us cried at the ending – even the teenagers.
That’s the power of reading aloud – it offers a shared experience that television and movies cannot replicate.
Often the boys would read to me, especially Ethan and Sam. In fact, Sam 21, and I recently read “A Monster Calls” aloud together as he prepared a lesson plan on the book for a college class. He loves literature so much; he’s halfway through earning a master’s degree in English at EWU.
All of our adult sons are readers, which resulted in the aforementioned consequences – they tell me about books they’ve enjoyed and loan them to me. Now, a stack of their recommendations teeters next to my pile of library books.
When I mentioned I wanted to read “Talking to Strangers” by Malcolm Gladwell, Ethan said, “I have it. You can borrow it.”
Zach read a book about modern media he thought I’d enjoy and brought it over. Derek started reading it before I got to it.
Sam buys books like the printed page might grow obsolete. My son-stack grew when he added another book by Patrick Ness, the author of “A Monster Calls,” and a book of short stories by Ted Chiang.
With twin toddler sons, Alex doesn’t have much time to read, but he loved Stephen King’s “11/22/63,” so I’m currently 100 pages into the 849-page volume.
I couldn’t have imagined all those Dr. Seuss books ago, that my grown-up sons would aid and abet my reading addiction, but at this rate my to-read stack won’t shrink any time soon. And that’s a consequence I’m happily enjoying.
Happy 2nd birthday War Bonds!
Two years ago today, I was humbled and amazed by the turnout for the launch of my first book.
In the five years it took to write and publish War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation, I lost so many of the couples featured. It broke my heart that some weren’t there to see their stories in print.
In the two years since publication, I’ve lost several more. Each death leaves an ache in my heart.
Yet at the front row of the book launch party many of my War Bonds couples were present as well as widows and widowers. They were in awe of the size of the crowd and watched with joy as every single copy of War Bonds sold out at Auntie’s Bookstore.
I’ve learned a lot about publishing, publicity, book tours and public speaking over the last two years– knowledge I know will serve me well when my next book comes out.
Today I’m still somewhat disbelieving that War Bonds is on bookshelves, in libraries and for sale in bookstores all over the world.
I’m so thankful for those who stood with me during the long journey from idea to pub party.
Thankful for readers who bought the book, read the book, reviewed the book and recommended it to others.
Thankful for bookstore owners, civic groups and organizations who invited me to share the message that true love can survive anything– even a world war.
But more than anything I’m thankful for my War Bonds family. They opened their hearts, homes and lives to me and allowed me to poke around. Then they trusted me to share their stories with the world.
What a journey.
What a blessing.
What a privilege.
War Bonds helped kids go to camp
You never know where your book will end up.
Today I got a note from a reader who purchased a copy of War Bonds to donate to her church auction.
“Spokane Valley United Methodist Church raised enough money to send 35 children to camp, including some from Hearth Homes and Family Promise who were homeless,” she wrote. “Your book was part of making that happen.”
That’s something that would delight each of the 36 couples in War Bonds as much as it delights me.
Books can make a difference in the most unexpectedly wonderful ways!
The house that love built
The other night I had a reading/signing event at Touchmark Retirement Community.
An employee approached me and said while she hadn’t read War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation, her daughter had.
It seems her daughter and her husband were looking for home and found one they really wanted in Millwood, WA.
“It wasn’t the house so much, it was what they felt when they were inside it,” the woman said. “There was such love in that house.”
A neighbor chatted with them and told them the couple who had lived there had built the house and had been married for more than 70 years.
“Their story is in a book,” he said.
Alas, the couple didn’t get the house, but they did buy a copy of War Bonds. And they fell in love with Warren and Betty Schott, just like the rest of us.
Warren and Betty on their 75th anniversary
Things no one tells you before you write a book: hazards of grocery shopping
I was hot, sweaty and tired after a long afternoon of writing followed by a brisk three-mile walk, but someone has to buy the groceries for my family and that someone is me.
Wearing my favorite emoticon-covered work-out tank and some scruffy shorts, I hopped into the car. I thought about running a brush through my hair, but it was windy day. Why bother?
I thought about slapping some make-up on, but why would I do that when I just needed a few things from the store?
You know where this is going don’t you?
While I was selecting some Walla Walla sweet onions, a woman near me said, “I like your shirt.” I smiled and thanked her.
That’s when she said, “Oh my gosh! Are you Cindy Hval? Did you write that book of love stories from World War II?”
When I nodded. She grabbed the guy stocking produce and gushed, “Do you know who this is?” And said some very lovely and kind things about War Bonds.
Of course, the produce guy wanted to know more. And then he said, “Hey! I DO know who you are, I read your column in the Spokesman Review!”
There’s a moral here. There’s a lesson to be learned.
For me it’s this: I can’t go grocery shopping anymore, ever again.
Magic, Make-Believe and Me
In this column for the Spokesman Review, I address the importance of keeping magic and make=believe alive for our children– especially now.
I was smiling as we walked out of the movie theater into the warm summer night.
“That was absolutely magical,” I said.
My sons, 16 and 21, nodded, but they didn’t seem as enthralled by “The BFG” as I’d been. The movie, based on the book by Roald Dahl, tells the story of an unlikely friendship between an orphan girl named Sophie and the Big Friendly Giant. The two join forces to rid the world of mean, nasty giants.
I loved the retelling. It brought back memories of curling up and reading the book with my second son, who was notoriously difficult to get to sit still and read anything at all. Dahl’s books were just scary enough and just off-kilter enough to capture his imagination and still his ever-churning legs.
Not me. While “Dory” was a fun film with great visual elements, humor and a compelling message, it lacked the heart of “The BFG.” It lacked magic.
For me, the best part about being a parent has been the ongoing permission to indulge in my love of make-believe. From sharing beloved childhood favorite films and books with my boys to discovering new stories and new adventures with them, parenthood has allowed me to retain a bit of the ability to believe in the impossible.
Perhaps that’s why I reacted so strongly when my youngest got in the car one day after kindergarten and announced, “There’s no such thing as Santa Claus.”
Furious, I whipped around and gave his older brothers the “look” – you know the scary glare meant to stop even the naughtiest child in their tracks. My offspring have dubbed it “Mom’s Death Ray.”
“Don’t look at us!” said Zack, then 11, “We know Santa is real!”
Taking a deep breath, I asked, “Why do you say that, Sam?”
“Tyler’s mom helped us with Christmas crafts today, and we were talking about what we wanted Santa to bring us for Christmas. She said, ‘Santa Claus is a made-up character, and he doesn’t take presents to children all over the world.’ Is she right? Is there really no such thing as Santa?”
I looked into his troubled blue eyes and tried to gauge his desire to know with his longing to believe.
So, I reminded Sam of the story of St. Nicholas and how he used his wealth to give to the poor and needy. I told him the story of Santa Claus came from St. Nicholas’ and asked him what he thought.
He scratched his head, looked at his brothers and then replied, “Oh, he’s real all right, but I think he has help getting all those presents delivered.”
Crisis averted. Magic preserved.
I know not all parents agree that a healthy dose of make-believe makes for a happy childhood. For instance, one of my sons told me of a millennial parent in his acquaintance who told him that allowing his preschoolers to believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy is the same as lying to them, and he will never lie to his kids.
But children are not miniature adults. The brain, body and emotions of a 5-year-old boy are not equivalent to those of a 30-year-old man. Fairy tales and make-believe allow imaginations to soar. They create a sense of wonder and possibility.
These past few weeks have made it difficult for many of us to hold onto any sense of hope, wonder and enchantment. The world can be a harsh, unlovely place. Maybe that’s why we need stories of magic and mystery all the more.
In a darkened theater we can watch a blue fish with memory problems cross the ocean to find her family, or see a little girl have tea with the queen of England and help banish evil giants from the land.
Stories offer us a respite from ugly reality and fan the flames of flagging faith, encouraging us to believe in the unbelievable, at least for a little while.
Contact Cindy Hval at email@example.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.
A Bookshelf of Our Own
Running my hands along the spines, I can scarcely believe it– 14 books featuring my stories.
From the first time a writer picks up a pen or pounds out a story on a keyboard we wonder if it will ever be read by more than just a family member, close friend or teacher. Rarely in love with our own words, we weigh, sift, edit and groan over balky transitions and awkward phrases. We look back at our first stories and they sometimes seem like primitive scratches in the sand.
And if we’re really lucky, we find our tribe– a group of supportive readers and writers, who push us to do better and who ask for more
And we celebrate their publications, adding their books to our shelves, always leaving room for the next volume.
How wonderful to take a moment and realize no matter how arduous the journey from idea to print, it is possible to achieve out what every writer longs for– a shelf of our own.
Reading in the Hundred Acre Wood
Spent a delightful evening at Barnes & Noble last night. I was joined by fabulous poet Zan Agzigian and amazing blues/jazz songstress Heather Villa for an evening of poetry, prose and song.
The reading was held in the children’s area of the store because that’s where they have the stage, so it was fun to read from Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood!
In addition to reading from War Bonds, I shared a portion of my work-in-progress, and the reception was warm and enthusiastic. A much-needed boost in the slow-going labor of writing my next book.
Even more fun was having my youngest son, 16-year-old Sam, in the audience.
“I love to hear you read,” he said. And he snapped the above photo.
At the signing afterward, a woman approached and asked me to sign a copy of War Bonds .
“It’s not my copy,” she explained. “It’s my 17-year-old daughter’s. She’s already read it several times and she often reads the stories aloud to me. She wants she and her fiance to be like the couples in your book, growing old together.”
How cool is that? A teenager who values the stories of the Greatest Generation! Nothing, makes me happier or more hopeful then know these stories are appreciated by the next generation.